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Hits and misses for Aussies in the NBA as Boomers build up for Paris Olympics medal mission

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30th March, 2024
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The 2023-24 NBA season promised so much for the Australian contingent – for a few it’s been the ideal runway to the Paris Olympics but it’s been a frustrating one for some of the Boomers’ key players. 

With just a couple of months left before Brian Goorjian finalises his 12-man squad for the Games in July, their chances of improving on their historic bronze/rose gold at Tokyo in 2021 hinge on the next generation stepping up on international basketball’s biggest stage. 

The Boomers will be up against the star-studded Canadian team in their pool and could also have to contend with perennial medal prospects Spain, Luka Doncic’s Slovenia or Greece led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

There will be three pools of four for the first time with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarter-finals along with two qualifiers who are the best of the rest.

After their disappointing performance at the World Cup last year when they missed the quarters to ultimately finish 10th, this will be the last chance for Boomers stalwarts Patty Mills and Joe Ingles to make an Olympic final and fulfil their dream of snaring gold. 

But the US, after their fourth-placed failure in the FIBA tournament, will be back to near full strength with a squad likely boasting LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards and Joel Embiid, after he chose to represent the US over his native Cameroon or potentially France.

Goorjian recently fired a warning shot to Mills and Ingles that they were no longer walk-up starts for the Australian side. 

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Mills’ lack of court time during an unhappy stint at Atlanta is less of an issue now after his mid-season trade to Miami has resulted in more minutes and more opportunity to do what he does best and bomb away from three. 

Ingles, a year older at 36, has been playing the role of the senior pro at Orlando this season, providing a calming influence on a young side which has rocketed up the Eastern Conference standings. 

He will be handed a similar task by Goorjian as a secondary playmaker and extra scoring option from deep on the wings. 

Ultimately, the Boomers will go as far as Josh Giddey takes them. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 16: Patty Mills and Josh Giddey of Australia react during the match between the Australia Boomers and Brazil at Rod Laver Arena on August 16, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

If he hasn’t already, Goorjian needs to shut the door on any talk of Ben Simmons umming and ahhing about making himself available as he’s done for every major tournament for nearly a decade before withdrawing every time. 

This time around Simmons should definitely not be making himself available for the Boomers to concentrate on rehabbing his latest back injury and ensuring that he gives himself his best chance of reviving his NBA career next season. 

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Entering the final year of his lucrative contract, Simmons will be copping a massive pay cut unless he can spark a dramatic turnaround in form and he could even be facing the prospect of having no deal at all if he continues his current spiral from All-Star to non-scoring malcontent. 

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - MARCH 27: Jock Landale #2 of the Houston Rockets puts up a shot at the rim during the first half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center on March 27, 2024 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

Jock Landale. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

Giddey needs to be given the keys to the team after his breakout performance at the World Cup. 

His OKC Thunder campaign has been encouraging without being outstanding. 

Giddey’s lack of a reliable jump shot has led to teams sagging off him in defence and he’s been unable to make them pay, although over the past week he’s had his three of his four best scoring efforts of the season.

He hit five of his eight three-point attempts in putting 25 on the Pelicans, backed that up with a season-high 31 against the red-hot Rockets despite missing all three shots from beyond the arc and on Saturday led the Thunder with 23 in just 24 minutes with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out in a 25-point thumping over a full-strength Phoenix side.

The Boomers need that version of Giddey to front up in Paris. 

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He doesn’t have to dominate the scoring but he needs to be able to score himself while also setting up teammates.

Two of those teammates in green and gold will be Jock Landale and Duop Reath forming a formidable frontcourt either as an imposing duo or sharing the centre minutes. 

Landale has been frustrated by a lack of opportunities for most of the season at Houston but the recent ankle injury to rising star Alperen Sengun has opened the door for the former Melbourne United centre.

He’s scored in double figures in five of Houston’s past nine outings, including 17 and a season-high +29 in the plus-minus earlier this week matching up against Reath’s Trail Blazers. 

Reath, who bounced around Serbia, China, Lebanon and the NBL with the Illawarra Hawks before getting his crack at the NBA with Portland, has been a revelation for the rebuilding team and was rewarded with a three-year deal recently. 

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Dante Exum’s bounceback year at Dallas means he will also be part of the Boomers’ set-up while Mavericks teammate Josh Green, Portland defensive specialist Matisse Thybulle and back-up big Nick Kay are all but guaranteed of getting a start in Goorjian’s crew. 

Duop Reath. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

That likely leaves three spots up for grabs. Goorjian has talked up Matthew Dellavedova’s chances of one last Boomers tilt after his vintage season with Melbourne United. 

But with Dyson Daniels making a comeback from his knee injury for New Orleans this week, the younger guard is the better option as a perimeter defensive option on the bench. 

Long-range shooting is a weak point for the Boomers with Dejan Vasiljevic and Chris Goulding in a head-to-head battle for that berth. Goulding was barely used by Goorjian at the World Cup so Vasiljevic probably has his nose in front. 

Fringe NBA players Jack White and Xavier Cooks are the two main contenders for another forward spot. Cooks has a slight edge in height and all-round output so it wouldn’t surprise to see him not only get a run but plenty of minutes for the Boomers in Paris.

Likely Boomers squad: Patty Mills, Josh Giddey, Dante Exum, Josh Green, Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle, Duop Reath, Jock Landale, Nick Kay, Dyson Daniels, Dejan Vasiljevic, Xavier Cooks. 

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